I am old. No, really. I still have my original copy of Games Workshops Rogue Trader, and both of the excellent Slaves to Darkness and Lost and the Damned hardcover books. One of my first ‘games’ was a play by mail called Phantasmech – a ‘mech in a maze’ game where every few weeks you would receive a description of events and you would then write down five orders and mail it back with a fee, and wait for the process to be repeated. I don’t say this to score points. My point is, when I started in wargaming, the internet was very different. It was mostly text, for a start. In the late 80s and early 90s, wargaming was going through a lot of pretty big changes. It was starting its journey into the mainstream. When you wanted to buy a game, you had one choice – find a local game store and either visit them or call them and tell them what you wanted, usually something you had seen advertised in the back pages of a gaming magazine or fanzine. If you wanted to write your own game, you could do that…. and maybe even 6 people would play it, too. If you belonged to a gaming club. You could then attend conventions, push your game, maybe even take out some adverts in the back of those magazines yourself.
The modern internet changed how we think about wargaming rules, and wargaming communities. With the maturity of the internet, you could meet people to discuss your favourite games online. This evolved into groups and individuals writing their own expansions, new rules packs and even entirely new games. The internet allowed you to not only write and share your new game, but to set it out, add images, and even host it all under a pretty professional banner, web address and site with support. Surely, this was a revolution! Here was the ability for literally anyone to make their own rules, to create a game, and to do it all so cheaply and with such enthusiasm and passion, that often the rules were even free, or at most a fraction of the price of those hefty books of yore. And yet…. The ability for anyone to write a game, and sometimes a great game, didn’t destroy the giants of wargaming. It wasn’t a coup that toppled the system, and we do still pay not only for games and rulebooks, but also for supplements and army lists and even background books. Why?
Because the emphasis shifted. Before these changes, the pool of choices was limited. You went with either a glossy book from the big names, or a photocopied and stapled 8 page booklet from a miniature company trying to support their minis. And that was about it. Suddenly, the choice was massive, but we still stuck to certain standards. We started to trust more in the big companies, ironically. In a world where anyone could write rules, it became harder to know which rules were worth our time, leaving aside the investment of miniatures, painting, etc. So while the cost of the books was bigger than a free download, it was only a fraction a cost of the game total, and so we didn’t (and don’t) mind spending money on a book if we know that we will enjoy it. We look for clarity of writing and pictures and images and production and support. The point is, we became more picky and discerning about what we devoted time to and as a result, quality in rulebooks has increased a massive amount in the last 20 years.
So, where am I going with this? 3D printers are becoming more prevalent, cheaper, easier to use. In an echo of desktop publishing and web hosting and production of rules, production of miniatures is in the early stages of going through the same process. And people are saying that it will be death of the big companies, that people wont pay for a miniatures when they can buy a design and print as many as they want, that it could end the hobby almost entirely. But I think that we can look at the past and see that this could be a fantastic thing for our favourite hobby. People with talent will get exposure and recognition that they never would have in the past, and the variety in miniatures will be beyond anything we can even envision right now, as everyone tries to find an unexplored niche. And, yes, I think that we will still buy miniatures and still trust on the big names and big games. But we will have options and possibilities to take our gaming in any direction we want. I think that the 3D printed revolution has the potential to be an incredibly positive thing, not only for us as players but also for the companies that are already established in the environment.
Now, augmented and virtual reality wargaming, THAT’S going to change things!
See you in 7!